Mei, stop eating the damn thing
We descend our trunk, dresses still heavy with fruit, and climb up next to the orb. Jie pokes it with a leaf, and that’s when we see it’s not connected to the tree at all. It swivels around like a head, rips the leaf out of Jie’s hand. It’s an apricot with teeth where its cleft should be. It has a vertical mouth, that opens like a zipper. It doesn’t have a face, technically, but the teeth are enough. If it’s got a mouth, it’s got a mother. The slight furring makes it almost cute, and it’s wearing a small cap of green leaves, almost like a hair-do. The apricot opens its mouth wider than its body, and we both think it’s going to eat us until we realize it’s yawning. Jie pets its furry cheek and feeds it the apricots she’s picked for herself.
The apricot-baby eats apricots. I ask Jie if this apricot-baby is technically a cannibal, and Jie says it’s not because the apricot-baby is the only of its species. We visit the apricot-baby every day. It never moves or grows or speaks – Jie has tried to teach it Chinese, but the apricot-baby’s mouth is a cannibal, not a communicator.
One day we climb the fence and the whole orchard is tented – big silver tarps like festival tents, each of the trees with a flag staked into its roots. Red flags mean the tree will be chopped down, green flags mean it’ll be medicated. We find out later that one of the trees had grown a deadly disease – its leaves turned blank-white like paper and fell out within an hour. The neighbors panicked and hired a tree doctor, who said there was either something wrong with the roots or something wrong with the water supply. He asks if the tree has been traumatized. He asks if the soil has been disturbed. Jie and I wonder if our digging has triggered something in the dirt, a virus seeking its way into the light, a land-mine. But mostly we’re desperate to find our apricot-baby. The trees will be fumigated soon, so Jie and I bring a kitchen knife to tear open the tree-tarps and rescue the apricot-baby.
But the neighbors are in the orchard all day, talking to the tree doctor and knocking on the trunks, strategizing how to make their trees disease-proof, invader-free. Jie and I don’t want to risk being seen, not even for our apricot-baby. Even though Jie calls it her daughter, even though we wove it a sweater made of grass and laughed when it ate the sleeves – I know she wants to blame the baby for all of this. I know she wants to think we’re not the species responsible.
The tree doctor says to the neighbor: this is unfortunate but predictable. There are consequences to growing non-native species outside of their indigenous ecologies. There are deaths.
A boy at work teaches Jie how to make a metal detector out of a radio, cardboard, a broomstick, and copper wire. In return, Jie lets him finger her in the sweaty kitchen of the Cracker Barrel. Jie stands and washes dishes while he’s behind her, three of his fingers spidering around inside her cotton underwear. His nails snag on her pubic hair and she hisses, twists the faucet hotter, scalds off her calluses.
Jie holds the broomstick and I hold the radio. The copper wire wraps around both ends of the broomstick and the radio is taped to one end, the clump of extra wire dragging on the ground like a tail. Jie switches the radio to AM and the morning news spits mostly static, a sound like the sea muffled by hands.